Equity Case Studies

Equity Case Study: Azerbaijan - Child Friendly Schools, advancing equity through systemic educational reform

© UNICEF/Azerbaijan2008/Pirozzi
Since UNICEF first persuaded Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Education (MoE) to embrace a new educational model in 2000, the programme has evolved in its philosophy, priorities and actions in response to the needs and rights of children.

By Abhijit Shanker

21 February 2012 - UNICEF Azerbaijan changed its child care and protection focus in 2007, agreeing with Government during mid-term review (MTR) discussions to move away from providing direct assistance to mothers and children and increasingly toward working with partners to advance systemic improvements. In the field of education, this shift addressed system reform: raising standards, providing training and expertise, modernizing programmes and methods, and establishing appropriate monitoring mechanisms. UNICEF embraced the Child Friendly Schools model to pursue this change.

UNICEF’s global strategic refocus on equity in 2010 accelerated and advanced this shift. The new country programme 2011-2015 established ambitious, but attainable, systemic goals, namely ensuring that half of the country’s schools meet child-friendly standards and that children with disabilities are integrated into mainstream society, among others.

Two important considerations reinforced UNICEF’s decision to advance its efforts to address systemic change, despite the challenge of incorporating equity considerations: (i) an increased likelihood of providing greater assistance to the disadvantaged populations that need it most, and (ii) the possibility of improving the way programmes are delivered.

Throughout this process, UNICEF Azerbaijan has been taking special care in selecting the geographic areas where the Child Friendly Schools model is being implemented in order to ensure that poor or otherwise deprived areas can also be used as test sites for programmatic innovation to improve conditions for children and their families.


Since UNICEF first persuaded Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Education (MoE) to embrace a new educational model in 2000, the programme has evolved in its philosophy, priorities and actions in response to the needs and rights of children. The Active Learning and School Leadership project (2000-2004) provided the opportunity to develop a model of effective learning that was appropriate to Azerbaijan’s specific needs and that gave the MoE and UNICEF reliable evidence on which to secure the basis for future reform activities and policy developments.

Among the earliest and most influential outcomes was the policy on Active Learning in 2005-2008, which led to a new national curriculum and new textbooks and learning materials, as well as the development of a new pre-service teacher training curriculum. Subsequently, the Child Friendly School (CFS) framework was formulated as part of UNICEF’s 2005-2010 country programme, to provide a ‘quality school’ methodology within which the government could enhance and deliver education reform and implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Today, as reflected in UNICEF’s latest country programme, the CFS framework embodies the goals of and support for equitable education reform. The model advances the concept of a school fit for all children, one that supports and protects child rights; provides quality teaching; includes and responds to all learners, children as well as teachers and parents; and, self-evaluates and progresses toward a continuously improving learning environment that extends and challenges all learners to realize their potential.

Strategy & Implementation

In its present form, the CFS initiative applies a two-level approach in which local implementation informs the development of policy and strategy at national level and encourages dialogue, using real evidence, among all stakeholders:

  • The local level involves selected CFS pilot schools in 10 districts where decisions made at the national level are put in practice. UNICEF aims to increase the number of these CFS schools from an initial cohort of 100 to approximately 2250 schools - half of the national total - by 2015. These schools are rolling out a range of innovations that feed into the development of a practical CFS model that will be applicable to all schools in Azerbaijan after 2015.
  • The national level involves policy-makers, using a range of evidence including local pilot school experience and research studies. UNICEF collaborates with government officials to develop policy, strategy and action plans and to implement education reforms in a comprehensive way.

The UNICEF equity agenda has led to a transformation of the process of selecting schools to participate in the CFS programme. In the past, the best-performing institutions and districts were selected for pilots and implementation roll-outs for two reasons: first, they tended to be the most accessible and, second, they ensured the best chances of success at the outset. The equity lens challenges that approach and necessitated selection of the most remote and disadvantaged schools first.

Ultimately, the MoE agreed with UNICEF to employ a hybrid approach, selecting a mix of high- and under-performing schools and districts to participate in the programme, with the aim of demonstrating progress among the hardest-to-reach while also achieving more rapid scale-up. Among the districts mapped, half possessed a high proportion of low-income families, many of them internally displaced people, and many were in remote areas.

In addition, UNICEF has been able to provide critical technical support to the MoE in cooperation with The World Bank on three components of a separate Second Education Sector Development Project (SESDP) to improve the quality of education and learning results and to increase the efficiency of spending, which comprises six components:

  • Supporting the implementation of the general education curriculum and further curriculum reform
  • Modernization of in-service teacher training
  • Using student assessment for education quality improvement
  • Promoting school readiness
  • Strengthening education policy development and management capacity, and
  • Project coordination, monitoring and evaluation.

The World Bank provided USD 25 million for the project over the period of 2008-2013, and UNICEF has contributed as a full partner to modernizing in-service teacher training (Component 2) and promoting school readiness (Component 4). Since 2009, UNICEF has also focused on ensuring high-quality curriculum implementation (Component 1). Component 4 is designed and managed by UNICEF. Implementation of components 1 and 2 are supported by UNICEF through the CFS initiative.

Progress & Results

Since 2010, the MoE, with World Bank funding, has initiated a new approach in the roll-out of a new curriculum which outsources training delivery (logistics) to external companies whose staff trainers were trained by UNICEF. The Ministry ensured that each company that used the programme was accredited by the MoE and that trainers were certified to deliver the training using the accredited programme.

These combined efforts resulted in a high rate of financial leverage - and therefore, effectiveness - of MoE funds. By way of example, a UNICEF investment of USD 10,000 to develop materials and train 150 trainers in 2010 and 2011 has resulted in a MoE expenditure of USD 1,811,870 for training 9,000 primary school teachers. For 2012, the MoE has committed USD 14,379,113 to train 4,500 school principals (for which UNICEF spent USD 13,000 to train 150 trainers in 2011) and 80,000 secondary school teachers (for which UNICEF has budgeted USD 81,000 to train 1,050 trainers). Overall, UNICEF has generated a rate of financial leverage of approximately 180 to 1, making its investments highly productive.

Moreover, the sharpened focus on the most deprived and marginalised districts has yielded new opportunities for teachers from local schools to get national recognition and share their best practices in other parts of the country during various meetings and training courses, where they were engaged as trainers. It is important to underscore that some of the best implementation of the training has been in the least-privileged districts where, even though material resources are scant, the new knowledge and techniques has been unambiguously welcomed.


In the initial stages of the reform process (in 2008), the MoE attempted to manage both training and monitoring and evaluation, which negatively affected the quality of training because the MoE found itself unable to conduct objective monitoring and quality control at the same time as managing the implementation; any other independent monitoring would have had to criticize its efforts directly. UNICEF was able to take on the training responsibility, but it was challenging to overcome the Ministry’s expectation that it fund and provide curriculum training to school teachers and managers. However, UNICEF maintained its position that, while it would ensure quality of the end result of training delivered through its training of trainers programme, it would not finance the roll-out of the programme components.

The situation changed after the MoE reviewed their approach to in-service teacher training (following UNICEF advocacy and support efforts). It adopted a new policy based on the credit system, unleashing opportunities for a wider group of training providers including private companies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This change was revolutionary as it eliminated the monopoly of two state-run, in-service teacher training institutions and allowed the MoE to outsource training delivery to a wider range of providers and to concentrate on the role of quality control through the accreditation of training programmes and the monitoring of performance.

Lessons Learned

The roll-out of a national CFS programme that addresses a combination of the most deprived districts and more advanced ones has proved to be most dynamic and workable because the demand for innovation among the former and higher-level capacities among the latter were mutually supportive. Furthermore, teachers from deprived schools take part in a variety of teacher training programmes, which present opportunities to interact with other schools and share their experiences. Without the CFS framework, these teachers would have little or no chance to experience such an opportunity

  • Clear definition of development partner roles and responsibilities is important. Initially, confusion arose when the MoE attempted to implement both training delivery and monitoring; separating these roles improved quality on both fronts.
  • It is important to take into account in-country budgeting procedures and bureaucracies, such as local branches of ministries of finance, which are usually skeptical of large investments that they regard as a burden on fiscal stability. Therefore, it is important to involve the national-level Ministry of Finance at an early stage for its influential role in addressing budget-related issues locally. As a result, UNICEF is now turning to a fuller involvement of the Ministry of Finance in these and other initiatives.


During the selection of pilot CFS schools, UNICEF and MoE decided to make selections from among the best performing schools from the capital as well as from districts with a low-income population majority and settlements of internally displaced persons and from remote areas. The reason for this decision was that it would generate opportunities for schools in districts facing challenges to improve their knowledge and skills and also to encourage more interaction with and learning from schools from better-off districts. The pilot has validated the rationale and demonstrated that the new CFS model helps to reduce the MoE burden of leading and driving systemic reform from the top by linking schools both within one district and among different districts.

Potential Application

Two elements of the programme can be applied more generally: First, a mix of deprived and high-performing districts can yield a more dynamic and sustainable model of learning and achievement when rolling out a new programming approach. Second, the model demonstrates a method of programme cost-sharing that eventually shifts the full cost to the government, which is an ultimate goal of UNICEF work in middle-income countries like Azerbaijan.

However, during the programming of funding inputs from Government, it is important to take into account the specific features of in-country budgeting procedures and local bureaucracies, such as the Ministry of Finance, as they are often adverse to large investments which they regard as threatening to fiscal stability.

Next Steps

In 2012, UNICEF will support the MoE by training an additional cohort of 1,050 trainers on subjects in the new curriculum for grades 5 and 6, in order to improve the institutional and technical capacities of potential companies which participate in MoE tenders for the roll-out of the new curriculum in general education schools. UNICEF will also facilitate the application of the Active Learning policy in the education system with the support of a matching contribution from the MoE of USD 14 million, which will help to deliver the knowledge to over 60,000 secondary school teachers. Finally, the CFS rollout will add 300 schools in 13 districts, raising the total to 400 by year-end.



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